The Land of the Sky and Beyond
Excerpt from The Land of the Sky and Beyond (1895 ?) by Frank Presbrey, which describes the train ride from Old Fort to Asheville, through the headwaters of the Catawba.
The Southern Railway, that superb and colossal corporation whose tracks grid-iron the region south of Washington, has brought Asheville and its contiguous region to within a short distance of New York, for indeed the traveler may leave the metropolis after the day is nearly done and be transported by their magnificent "Southwest Limited" to Asheville about noon the next day.
And what a ride!--down past the Nation's capital, across the Old Dominion, Virginia, whose almost every inch has been consecrated to history by the blood of contending armies, and entering North Carolina "where armies ' ceaseless tread" wore broad paths in the fertile soil a generation ago. At Salisbury the Asheville train leaves the main stem, which continues on to Atlanta, and, like the "Course of Empire," wends its way to the westward. At Old fort a brief stop is made to attach the second or pilot engine, before giving battle to the giant mountains which, stretching directly across the path, challenge the mighty power of steam. It is a battle royal when the ponderous locomotives begin the ascent, the second in point of grade in all America, a struggle in which the strength of Nature is pitted against the inventions of man. With throttles wide open and the steam-gauges showing their maximum the ascent begins. Up and up creeps the train, slowly and surely winding in and out, like the tracings of a huge serpent, passing the colossal piles of granite between which the sparkling Catawba River dashes merrily on its race from mountain to sea, then around the face of a gigantic wall of rock, over chasms so deep as to make one dizzy, and again clinging to the very edge of the mountain-side. Below one-far below--is the peaceful valley, walled in on the opposite side by the mountains, whose slopes are clothed to the very dome with balsams and giant pines, interspersed with huge masses of rhododendron and azaleas near the valley's line. Beyond Round Knob, where a brief stop is made, the ascent becomes bolder and more tortuous. Around and around the great train creeps, doubting on itself several times, as if looking for some crevice through which it might dodge and evade the summit. So tortuous has been its movements that from one point the track below over which the train has come may be seen on fourteen different grades. The sun beams into the windows on one side of the car, and almost before the train has measured its length, it is shining in those opposite, and if Brother Jasper should make the trip he would ever after maintain that "De sun do move, suh."
"I have traveled two continents," said a companion of the writer on his recent trip, "and have never seen from car window a more magnificent spectacle." As the summit is reached, the eye takes in range after range of mountains, following one after the other like the giant waves of old ocean racing for the beach. Silvery waterfalls come tumbling down the mountain-sides so close as to almost dampen the train with their spray, and whichever way the eye may turn a new and entrancing scene of mingled grandeur and loveliness greets it. At last the great tunnel which pierces the summit is reached, and the descent begins. The watershed of the Atlantic is left and that of the Gulf of Mexico entered. The panorama has been shifted.
Excerpt from The Land of the Sky and Beyond (1895 ?) by Frank Presbrey